Prayer & Fasting
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” (Matthew 5:17)
In this series we are looking at how Jesus redefined different laws, ideas, and notions by expanding their meanings and, thus, our understanding of the Scriptures.
For our final entry in this series, we are going to look at Jesus’ definition of prayer and how we should behave when we fast.
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6)
This should sound familiar. Jesus just explained the same thing about performing good deeds: don’t be hypocrites who do it for attention. It was a common practice in Jesus’ day for synagogue leaders to pray loudly on the street corners or in public places within the synagogue. Jesus said they were only doing it so everyone could see them, and just like performing good deeds like a hypocrite, the attention they seek is all the reward they will ever get. So, just as with good deeds, Jesus instructed us to go away in private, into a room with a door that we can close, and pray to God privately.
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this:
Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:7-13)
This is something I think we can all struggle with from time to time. I know I do. I find myself babbling on, repeating things over and over again. It ends up not sounding like a real conversation, which is what prayer is—a conversation between you and God. Think of any conversation you have with another person; you probably don’t repeat their name over and over again as often happens in prayer. “Bob, thank you for coming today, Bob. And I just want to thank you, Bob, for the gift you brought, Bob. You’re so kind and generous, Bob and, Bob,, I just ask that you would help me, Bob to learn to give good gifts like you, Bob.” We don’t talk like that! The next time you pray, try to have a natural conversation with God. Conversations also require listening, and a big part of our prayer life should be listening to God. Spend some literal quiet time with the Lord. Don’t fill it with your requests, just listen for His still, small voice.
Jesus also provides a prayer outline, The Lord’s Prayer, wherein we honor God and His holy name. We ask for His Kingdom and will to come and be done. We thank Him for the day and the food He provides. We ask forgiveness for our sin as we forgive those who have sinned against us and we ask for help and protection against temptations and to be rescued from the evil one. It’s a fantastic outline to follow, especially in those times when you feel like you don’t know what to say.
Notice that in Jesus’ prayer instructions, He didn’t tell us to simply ask for forgiveness of our sins—it’s asking forgiveness as we forgive those who have sinned against us. It’s the only part of the prayer that Jesus clarified and expanded upon.
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
This is something people can have a hard time accepting, but it is another of Jesus’ teaching that is straightforward, with no gray area. If you forgive people who have sinned against you, God will forgive you, but if you refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive your sins. Are you withholding forgiveness from someone? Is there someone who you feel hasn’t earned or doesn’t deserve your forgiveness? Is your forgiveness better than God’s? God does not make us earn His forgiveness; we never could. God does not withhold His forgiveness from those who repent. So if God gives His forgiveness freely, how much more should we be quick to forgive others?
“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
Jesus addressed the hypocrisy of the time. People would purposely make themselves look disheveled and miserable just for the admiration of their fasting. Jesus said that if you are going to fast, make sure no one notices it. Do you ever make things a little worse than they are just to get some attention, some admiration, maybe some pity? As we’ve seen throughout this series, Jesus is teaching us that when we live in obedience to God in how we love others, how we pray, and how we fast, we should not be doing it for the admiration of others; we should be doing it to please our Father in heaven. It’s all a heart issue and our heart should be for God, not for the attention and admiration of man.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
This concludes our July series. Our next post will be called “Prove It,” inspired by John the Baptist’s words in Matthew 3:8: “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.”